Strangers among our own people
Regan slams Offaly board after Tullamore shut-out prompts calls for hurlers to quit county venue
Offaly County Board are more interested in having O'Connor Park looking "resplendent" for the visit of Galway and Dublin on Saturday night that it is in the preparations of its own senior hurling team.
That was the damning assessment of former Faithful County midfielder Daithi Regan yesterday as he backed the position of manager Joe Dooley and his squad, who claim they were prevented from training at the Tullamore venue on Saturday.
The players and management have written to the board and the clubs in Offaly, stressing that they don't want to train at the main county ground again and, if possible, they don't want to play there either.
It has also emerged that the Offaly minor hurling management requested Birr as the venue for their most recent match against Westmeath, but the request wasn't granted.
In a subsequent letter to the board, the minor management described themselves as "strangers in the midst of our own people" having to play in Tullamore.
There is a growing lobby of opinion that the county team should play and prepare in Birr, the centre of the hurling hinterland.
The majority of the strong hurling clubs are dotted around Birr, where the stadium has undergone extensive work in recent years and can cater for up to 6,000 people.
However, O'Connor Park in Tullamore, some 20 miles away, is the county ground. It too has undergone an extensive makeover in recent years, which makes it one of the best provincial grounds in the country.
That doesn't wash with hurling people in Offaly, though, and in March Regan spelled it out in an interview with the Irish Independent when he stressed that Birr was a far more suitable venue for the hurlers, where they could generate far greater support.
Regan says the treatment of the Offaly hurling team is nothing short of "disgraceful" and suggests that Saturday's incident is only one of a number that have interrupted their preparations.
"What's going on in Offaly wouldn't happen in Sligo. It wouldn't happen in New York or London either," he said. "In my opinion the board are far more interested in servicing the debt on O'Connor Park than they are in the promotion of hurling.
"We've won four All-Irelands in 20 years, 10 Leinster titles and a league, but as far as I can see the board don't really care about hurling. I know my views are shared by a majority of hurling people in Offaly.
"They'll want O'Connor Park looking well on Saturday night -- and that is right and proper too. They'll give you all the sound bites about 'directors of hurling' and whatever else, but the decisions about what is best for Offaly hurling are not being made."
Regan has painted a picture of a nomadic existence for the Offaly hurlers and says he recently took his club U-16 team off the field in Birr to allow the senior county team to train there instead.
"They were supposed to be training in O'Connor Park but the minor football team was training there instead ahead of their game with Kildare. So the hurlers came to Birr.
"They were standing on the side of the pitch waiting for us to finish. I said to myself that this is embarrassing, this shouldn't happen the flagship team in the county. It wouldn't happen in the counties that are serious about hurling."
The management of the Offaly minors made a strong plea to the board to have their Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath on May 21 -- which they lost 1-14 to 0-9 -- played in Birr instead of Tullamore.
Manager Joe Cleary and his selectors penned a letter to the board dated May 16 expressing their "extreme disappointment with the non-consultation and the lack of communication" regarding the scheduling of the fixture. The focus of the letter was the detachment hurling people felt to Tullamore.
"The sitting of this fixture at the Tullamore venue negates any advantage accruing from a home venue as the majority of the minor players do not have the opportunity to play in O'Connor Park on a regular or continuous basis," the letter read.
"The Birr venue, on the other hand, is a very familiar setting for many of the players as they play their club hurling with south Offaly-based teams. Couple this familiarity with the fact that Birr is in the centre of Offaly's hurling supporter base. Alas the Tullamore venue fails to meet any of these considerations. We are strangers in the midst of our own people."
Regan yesterday criticised the board for not addressing the issue publicly.
"I'm glad this is out in the open and I think it can be the start of something big regarding the venues," he said.
"I know Joe Dooley a long time and I know that he would have thought long and hard about making an issue out of this. He's in his last year with the team and I'd say he raising this so that his successor won't encounter the same problems.
"This isn't the greatest Offaly team, but they are honest, showed a lot of courage against Dublin and deserve better from our board."
The Offaly board are not making any public comment on Saturday's stand-off.
However, it is understood that the senior hurling team were scheduled to train at O'Connor Park at 1.0 last Saturday afternoon but were to view a DVD under the stand at 11.30.
A Centra skills competition was taking place on the pitch and was due to end at 12.0, according to county board sources. But some of the players attempted to go out on to the field ahead of schedule and that is where the flashpoints developed.
A member of the ground staff is alleged to have challenged the players and, according to their signed letter, ordered them off the field, wouldn't allow them to cross it and finally suggested that their cars could be removed from the car park. There was no member of the county board present to help diffuse the situation.
As a consequence, training was called off and the players and management, deciding that they had had enough, opted to pen a letter of complaint to the board. They outlined their grievances with O'Connor Park, stressed that they don't want to train there again and requested that strong consideration be given to playing all future games in Birr.
Offaly's management committee was due to meet last night to discuss the contents of the letter.